Loudclick has created a platform for collaborative web site creation that allows anyone — from newbie to designer — to quickly deliver a great looking web site for sports teams, homeowners associations, small businesses, or any group. I met with Alex Huff at a local Caribou Coffee to learn more about him and hear the Loudclick story.
Loudclick’s core value proposition is a hosted application which enables building these web sites together (i.e., multi-user, multi-admin, and/or multi-author). Inline content editing capability allows an approved user to log in and edit any “element” (block on the page) that they have permission to change. It’s an editing method that’s gaining acceptance in the marketplace and the Loudclick solution delivers in an elegant way.
As many of us know from the emerging acceptance of wiki‘s in business and organizations, inline content editing is powerful but often new or less tech-savvy users struggle with the wiki paradigm and require training. Editing a wiki page changes it from a page laid out nicely to a bunch of text with tags…and many users I’ve dealt with on wiki’s freeze up and think they’re looking at code and just don’t understand what to do next, making the use of wiki’s problematic in casual group situations where easy publishing and communicating is what’s important.
As we talked, I mentioned that, although it’s positioned as a web site/page builder, “this seems like it could be positioned as a wiki with no learning curve“. Alex didn’t disagree, but is clearly focused on their core market: groups of people who want to communicate and connect by building great looking web sites created with minimal muss-n-fuss.
This is a young company. They have three people, are virtual, and have an acting chief technology officer and a design head with four developers in Islamabad, Pakistan. They’ve raised $600k with more to come and have an aggressive roadmap and rollout scheduled.
Alex and I first met virtually when I was at the enterprise content management system (CMS) company, Vignette, and he had his design firm with a client in Iowa whom he’d recommended choose our software and they did. So we had a common understanding of the CMS space, a baseline of knowledge, and thus had quite a spirited discussion about expensive and complex CMS’es at the high end and the enormous array of solutions at the low-end.
This prompted me to probe about the market space they’re going after and it’s clear Loudclick is focusing on ease of use, social networking and the enormous pent-up demand for user publishing that is accessible, powerful and extensible (more about this below).
While we talked, I could see the clear advantages of what they’ve created with their hosted solution (and the need for easy publishing solutions is one I know intuitively!). But the competition in this space is fierce and not for the faint-of-heart.
Online participants who’d like a publishing solution for their group have many choices. From using WordPress as a CMS (and their hosted WordPress.com) to CityMax, Joomla, Drupal, LightCMS, and the dozens of others with an approach sure to meet the needs of just about anyone, differentiating and positioning LoudClick will be a challenge, Alex “gets it” and is up to the task, but add in all these other publishing options available to people — specifically hosted solutions like blogging engines Typepad or Blogger or social network engines like Ning with page and blog creation — and the Loudclick crew will discover that targeting an audience and messaging to them is going to be tough…let alone providing features that attract them and create a defensible position and competitive advantages for their startup.
TECHNOLOGY & FEATURES
Their current technology is built upon Microsoft .Net; a SQL Server backend; is completely template-driven; and hosted at Rackspace. They’re positioned to scale up to meet demand and could easily (though they’re not currently) offer a “white label” version of their product for an organization to brand as their own.
I was impressed with their features and their model:
- Decentralized user publishing and user management
- Indexing feature for all content within the system making it easy to repurpose and use
- The use of “elements” or regions of the screen in which content is presented and are blocks that can also have specific and defined permissions wrapped around them. This gives administrators the ability to define areas of the page that can be, for example, owned by the organization and unchangeable like a left sidebar of information, a header logo, etc.
- Domain mapping (when signing up a user is given a subdomain “username.loudclick.com” and can map any domain name to point to that subdomain) so people can have their brand or organization be what points to the Loudclick site they’ve created
- The current “in beta” model is that Loudclick use is free (though with advertisements).
There are also many new features coming and here’s a sneak peek:
- Pro version with no advertisements
- Messaging & Notifications (any user could opt-in for either)
- Facebook application: This is potentially one of the most powerful pieces of what Loudclick is delivering. Mini-Feeds show your friends what you’ve been doing in Loudclick; choose friends to invite to sites you manage and so on.
- OpenSocial: This is under consideration for delivering their Facebook-type application on other social platforms
- Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds are coming but not here yet. At first I was puzzled by the fact this wasn’t already implemented since almost every other offering I review has it, but when you consider their target market, this is NOT one comprised of people who are big RSS users and thus it makes sense it is lower on the priority list.
The Internet and Web is more important to communication, social connection, business and commerce by the day. Increasingly people are seeking out easy to use, fast to get up-and-running solutions they can deploy without a computer science degree and one where their slight technical acumen makes them solely responsible for the content and site management.
Loudclick, though even in beta, is already delivering this value and I’m anxious to see the company and solution develop.